Comic-Con 2015: Art Directors From Fantastic Four, Batman v. Superman, Jurassic World, Terminator Genisys & More

Before the sets are designed and the stunts are mapped out, before the costumes are created and sometimes even before there is a script, there are the illustrators of the Art Directors Guild, who come in at the very beginning to literally sketch out what the movie will look like. Their panel’s title referred to them as the “hidden gems” of film and television. Illustrators from superhero and fantasy films talked about how they got started and how they work.

It is not surprising how many of them began with comic books, some calling themselves “comic book junkies” as kids and one actually working as a comic book artist before switching to film, because the storyboards they create look like sketches for comic books. Amy Lynn Umezu (Jurassic World) said that she originally intended to be a comic book artist or an animator, but found she did not like the repetition required for those jobs.  “So I fell in love with storyboarding.”

One of the illustrator’s most important contributions to a film is the storyboards, each panel showing the angle and placement of the camera to map out the pacing and the way that the camera will tell the story.  What really matters is not the accuracy of the facial features or expressions but the placement of the characters’ bodies in relation to the set and the camera. Jeffrey Errico (Terminator Genisys) said that storyboard artists have to keep working all the time to improve their understanding of anatomy and perspective, because that is what the storyboards have to communicate most clearly.  He described the “pencil push-ups” and life drawing he does to keep his skills as sharp as possible and he teaches would-be storyboard artists to use those exercises in the classes and workshops he teaches.

The most surprising revelation from the panel was how much variety there was in the timing and the way the work of these illustrators is used in the film. “Storyboards fall in the middle,” Umezu explained.  “Sometimes the art department wants us and sometimes we’re the property of the director.”  On other projects, they work with the production designer, the director of photography, or the stunt coordinator.  If the director “is too busy meeting with Angelina Jolie’ to pay attention to the storyboards and concept art, they will work with whichever department is put in charge.

 Even the younger illustrators spoke about the dramatic change in technology since they began working in movies. Errico originally drew on paper placed on a light box.  Now he sketches thumbnails on post-it notes and then scans them into a computer.  Moderator Tim Burgard (Fantastic Four) explained that when computer programs were developed for architects, set designers began to use them to create fake buildings.  The technology has made it easier to coordinate communication with all of the different departments.  They are so immersed in technology that the panel told us about a time no one in the art department could find a pen and they had to borrow one from a secretary.  Robert McKinnon (Batman v. Superman) said, “Art departments used to have this heavy ammonia smell from the blue lines, and I miss that.”  In those days, the rooms were filled with light and people held onto pens and drew on paper.  Now, the rooms are dark, with everyone looking into glowing screens.

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